- In this Nov. 23, 2016 photo, Arlan Van Leeuwen,
left, and Arlin Van Groningen, co-owners of the new
New Hope Dairy, converse as they walk near 1 million
gallon storage tank used to hold raw cow manure, at
the dairy in Galt, Calif. Sen. Steve Nass, a key
Republican lawmaker vowed Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019,
to block new restrictions on manure storage after
farmers complained state agriculture officials never
consulted them and the rules are so tough they could
end farm expansions in Wisconsin.
MADISON — A key
Republican lawmaker vowed Wednesday to block new state
restrictions designed to protect farmers' neighbors from
the stench of manure following a flurry of complaints from
Wisconsin's agricultural community.
The state Department of
Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has spent the
last three years drafting revisions to farm siting
regulations. The latest version calls for dramatically
expanding manure storage facility setbacks from neighbors'
property lines for new farms and farms looking to expand.
Sen. Steve Nass,
co-chairman of the Legislature's rules committee, issued a
terse statement Wednesday accusing department
"bureaucrats" of ignoring the industry's
concerns and making life harder for farmers. He promised
to do everything he can to block the rules if they reach
his committee in their present form.
"It would be a
terrible mistake for (the department) to formally submit
their current version of rule changes to the
Legislature," Nass said. "Instead, the
department should scrap their current process and begin
anew, this time seeking to work cooperatively with the
widest representation of Wisconsin's agricultural
community. However, if the agency prefers the route of
confrontation, then that is what they will get from the
Legislature and farmers of this state."
The department plans to
bring the rules to an internal board for approval in
November. From there the rules would go to Gov. Tony
Evers. If he approves them — which seems likely, since
his administration controls the department — they would
go to Nass' committee. He could call a vote to block the
rules from taking effect.
The agency issued a
statement saying it has provided multiple opportunities
for public input, including holding a dozen public
hearings and taking more than 450 comments from the
"We are now
considering those comments for possible revisions and will
contemplate what the next step is," the statement
said. "Throughout this process, (the department) has
welcomed and valued the public input it has
Current state standards
require farms with at least 500 animals to place their
manure storage facilities at least 350 feet from
neighbors' property lines. The state doesn't impose the
standards but local governments must apply it if they
A department advisory
committee concluded in April, however, that the 350-foot
minimum setback doesn't protect homes, schools and
high-use areas such as playgrounds from odors.
Under the revisions, new
farms with at least 500 animals as well as farms looking
to expand to at least 500 animals would have to place
manure storage facilities between 600 feet and 2,500 feet
from neighbors' property lines. The exact distance would
depend on the size of the herd. Farms could reduce the
setback distance by mitigating the stench using anaerobic
digesters, injecting manure into the ground rather than
spreading or other techniques.
The state wouldn't impose
the standards on farmers but local governments would have
to apply them if they permit farms, just like the current
Scott Laeser, water program
director for environmental group Clean Wisconsin, on
Wednesday called the standards "modest and long
But a coalition of farm
advocacy groups sent DATCP a letter last week arguing that
the approach wouldn't be workable. Farmers could be forced
to place manure pits thousands of feet from a neighbor's
empty fields or woods. They also complained that farmers
would have to purchase costly odor-mitigation equipment to
The groups held a joint
news conference Monday to rail against the regulations,
saying no farmers were included on the advisory committee,
the setbacks are so extreme no one will be able to expand
their operations and local governments that oppose factory
farms will apply the setbacks to block new facilities.
"If adopted unchanged,
this revised rule would result in significant costs to
operations that want to expand, resulting in a 'chilling
effect' on livestock industry growth," the Wisconsin
Dairy Alliance said in a statement Monday. "Rather
than grow in Wisconsin, producers will leave the state for
more workable locations. Following the supply, meat and
milk processors will move new investment opportunities to
wherever that supply is."
Wisconsin governor says he would
mull mandatory gun buybacks
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, center, and Attorney
General Josh Kaul, left, listen during a press
conference announcing new gun control legislation,
Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in the Governors
conference room in Madison, Wis.
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony
Evers said Thursday that he would consider requiring
assault weapon owners to sell such guns back to the
government, sparking an instant backlash from Republican
The GOP's top leaders said Evers finally revealed what
they believe is Democrats' true goal of disarming legal
gun owners. They promised that he would never succeed as
long as Republicans control the Legislature.
"With Governor Evers considering confiscating firearms
from law-abiding citizens, it shows just how radical
Democrats have become," Senate Majority Leader Scott
Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas U.S.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke has been pushing for mandatory
assault rifle buybacks over the last few weeks.
O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso was the site of a mass
shooting in August that left 22 people dead.
Republicans have balked at the idea of forcing people to
give up their assault weapons. Even some Democrats have
resisted, saying O'Rourke's stance could make it harder
to negotiate on gun control legislation with President
Wisconsin Democrats have been working to signal to
supporters that they're trying to stiffen gun control
laws after a string of mass shootings around the country
in August, including the El Paso attack, an attack in
Dayton, Ohio, and an attack in Odessa, Texas.
Assault-style rifles have been the weapons of choice in
many mass shootings, including those three in August.
They introduced a universal background check bill last
month and unveiled a red flag measure Thursday. That
bill would allow a judge to seize people's firearms for
up to a year if they pose a threat to themselves or
others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia
have passed similar red flag bills.
During a news conference in which the governor touted
the red flag bill, he was asked if he supports mandatory
buybacks of assault rifles. Evers tried to avoid
answering directly, saying he's focused on the red flag
proposal and the universal background check bill. Asked
if that meant he didn't support buybacks, Evers
responded: "I'd consider it."
Even though some Democrats have refused to embrace the
idea of mandatory buybacks, Assembly Majority Leader Jim
Steineke tweeted that at least Evers was being honest
about Democrats' agenda. He followed that up with a
statement saying mandatory buybacks would never happen
as long as Republicans control the Statehouse.
"This morning's candid comments from Governor Evers only
further illustrate that without a strong, Republican-led
Legislature, the idea of involuntary seizure of firearms
could easily become a reality in Wisconsin," Steineke
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes came to Evers'
defense, tweeting that Republicans are "aggressively
misleading the public" about Evers' agenda. He didn't
elaborate in the tweet.
Later Thursday, Evers declined to answer follow-up
questions about buybacks as he left the Capitol rotunda.
Like Republicans across the country, the Wisconsin GOP
has long said that restricting access to guns wouldn't
stop mass shootings and could infringe on Second
Amendment rights. They maintain the answer is focusing
on mental health.
Republicans who deviate from that stance could open
themselves up to primary challengers. Fitzgerald is
running to represent a conservative swath of
southeastern Wisconsin in Congress. It's unclear whether
he will face any primary opponents but any moves that
make him look like he supports any gun control measures
could spur opponents to jump into the race against him.
Vos and Fitzgerald said in August they don't support the
background check bill and said in their joint statement
Thursday that the red flag bill would violate due
process and the constitutional right to bear arms. They
noted Republicans passed a bill last year creating $100
million in school safety grants.
Vos voted for a bill in 2014 that allows physically or
mentally disabled people at risk of being abused to
petition a judge to force an abuser to surrender his or
her guns. The measure cleared the Senate on a voice
vote, which means there was no roll call that would show
how Fitzgerald voted, but as majority leader he could
have blocked the bill from reaching the floor.
Vos and Fitzgerald aides didn't immediately respond to
emails asking why they supported that bill but not the
Democrats' red flag proposal.
Thursday marked the anniversary of a shooting at a
software company in the Madison suburb of Middleton, in
which an employee wounded four of his co-workers before
police stormed the building and killed him.
Wisconsin school chief calls
achievement gap a 'crisis'
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin's student achievement
gap is a "crisis" that a half-billion dollar boost in
education funding will begin to address, the state
superintendent said Thursday in her first "state of
State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor delivered
the message to an audience of teachers, school
officials, office holders and others at the state
Capitol. Taylor took over as state superintendent in
December after her predecessor, Tony Evers, was elected
governor. Evers also attended.
The speech came a week after standardized test scores
for the last school year, when Evers was state
superintendent, showed that less than half of Wisconsin
students are proficient in math and English and that
such scores were dropping. The scores also showed a
continuing achievement gap between white and non-white
Democrats said the poor test results showed the need to
increase funding for K-12 schools.
The budget approved by the Legislature last year and
signed by Evers increased K-12 funding by $500 million.
Evers used his broad veto powers to increase funding by
another $65 million, but it was still well short of the
$1.4 billion he had wanted.
Funding also increased by about $650 million in the
budget passed in 2017, which came after six years of
education funding that was largely flat or cut.
Republicans who control the Legislature said the test
results showed that the status quo was not working.
Republicans refused to spend as much on schools as
Democrats and Evers wanted.
CJ Szafir, a vice president with the conservative law
firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said
Taylor and lawmakers should work to help high-performing
schools expand, grow school choice and make funding more
equitable and transparent.
The fight over education funding and how to hold schools
accountable has raged for decades in the Capitol and it
shows no signs of abating. Republicans have successfully
grown the state's private school voucher program to
provide more alternatives for students who want to leave
public schools. Democrats have pushed for more funding
to help struggling public schools catch up.
Stanford Taylor, in her speech, said progress was being
made to address "deep, persistent gaps in achievement,
access and opportunity." Stanford Taylor, who is the
state's first black superintendent of schools, described
her own upbringing as the ninth of 14 children in
"Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, we are still
fighting for equitable educational opportunities for all
children, no matter their race or background," she said.
"Together, we can have the difficult conversations about
race and equity in our schools and our communities and
tackle our achievement, access and opportunity gap as
the crisis it is."
She praised the recently signed budget as a "down
payment" on a commitment to equity.
"While it is not everything we asked for, this budget
makes an investment in all of Wisconsin's children and
begins to provide additional support to some of our most
underserved," Stanford Taylor said.
The test scores showed that 40% of students in math and
39% in reading were proficient or advanced, down
slightly from the previous year.
The gap in the percentage of white students who were
proficient in math compared with black students ranged
from more than 26 points in eighth grade to nearly 33
points in third and fifth grades. In English, the gap
ranged from nearly 24 points in eighth grade to almost
29 points in seventh grade.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the scores
"disturbing" and "a cause for concern for parents,
educators and taxpayers."